Ranking the Chances for Every MLB Team to Land Michael Brantley in Free Agency
Slugger Marcell Ozuna and dynamic center fielder George Springer have received the bulk of the attention this offseason among free-agent outfielders.
However, veteran Michael Brantley could be the missing piece for a team on the brink.
The 32-year-old can flat-out hit, and he hasn't shown any signs of decline over the past two seasons with the Houston Astros.
He hit .300/.364/.476 with 20 extra-base hits in 187 plate appearances during the 2020 regular season, and he's a career .297/.354/.440 hitter in 12 MLB seasons.
Despite serving as the Astros' primary designated hitter this year, he has been a standout left fielder throughout his career, and he's more than capable of moving back to that spot.
Amid the slow-moving free-agent market, let's look at how all 30 teams stack up as landing spots for Brantley based on their financial flexibility, roster needs and status as contenders.
30. Pittsburgh Pirates
Let's say you're 32, you're one of the best free agents on the market and you've never won a World Series ring. Would you sign with the Pirates?
29. Baltimore Orioles
In the unlikely event the Orioles decide to spent significant money in the early stages of their rebuilding process, it will surely be to bolster the patchwork starting rotation or to shore up the questionable middle infield.
28. Kansas City Royals
The Royals have been active this offseason, signing first baseman Carlos Santana, outfielder Michael A. Taylor and left-hander Mike Minor. The front office will continue to pursue upgrades, but they are still multiple years from contending and will be a non-factor on the Brantley market.
27. Colorado Rockies
The poor handling of superstar Nolan Arenado could have lasting effects on the Rockies' ability to attract free-agent talent, and the front office's lack of direction does not make them an attractive landing spot.
26. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers embraced a youth movement in 2020, and there will be more prospect talent arriving in the years to come. Despite a 17-16 start to the shortened season, they are still a long way from contention, and that will make it difficult to attract top-tier veterans in free agency.
25. Arizona Diamondbacks
Even if the Diamondbacks fancy themselves contenders, the corner outfield spots are set with veterans David Peralta and Kole Calhoun among the team's most productive offensive players. After a disappointing 25-35 finish, they may decide to pivot toward a rebuild.
24. Seattle Mariners
The biggest source of excitement for Mariners fans is the prospect of a future outfield of Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic and Julio Y. Rodriguez. That doesn't necessarily preclude them from signing Brantley while they continue to wait on the latter two, but their window of contention is not yet open.
23. Texas Rangers
Even if the Rangers were buying rather than looking to shed payroll, they might be hesitant to sign another aging outfielder after finally getting out from under Shin-Soo Choo's contract. With an outfield of David Dahl, Leody Taveras and Joey Gallo, and Willie Calhoun handling DH duties, there's not a clear fit anyway.
No Clear Fit
22. Los Angeles Angels
Even after Angels manager Joe Maddon told reporters he thinks Jo Adell needs more time in the minors, it's still unlikely the pitching-needy squad will focus on adding an outfielder. Rookie standout Jared Walsh played 68 games in right field in the minors, so he could join Justin Upton and Mike Trout for the time being.
21. Tampa Bay Rays
Brantley feels like a player the Rays would splurge on—a steady veteran who can be had on a two-year deal and who has a great chance of living up to his salary. That said, the small market club's 2020 financial losses might keep it from spending much of anything in free agency.
20. Cincinnati Reds
If the Reds add an outfielder, it's going to be a center fielder with Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos already locked in to the corner spots and Aristides Aquino in the mix for playing time. They should be more focused on addressing the potential loss of Trevor Bauer and rebuilding a bullpen that has cut ties with Archie Bradley and Raisel Iglesias.
19. San Diego Padres
An outfield of Tommy Pham, Trent Grisham and Wil Myers has a chance to be one of the most productive in baseball—provided Pham stays healthy and Myers builds on a bounce-back campaign. Never say never with A.J. Preller calling the shots, but Brantley doesn't look like a great fit with the Padres.
Brantley would be a huge upgrade for an underperforming outfield that is slated to start some combination of Oscar Mercado, Jordan Luplow, Daniel Johnson and Bradley Zimmer alongside postseason standout Josh Naylor. But if Cleveland wasn't willing to pay Brantley two years ago when he walked via free agency, there's no reason to believe anything has changed.
17. New York Mets
The Mets are hot on the trail of free agent George Springer, and they already have Dominic Smith, Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto penciled in to starting spots, so it's hard to see how Brantley would fit.
16. Los Angeles Dodgers
A scenario exists wherein the Dodgers send Gavin Lux back to Triple-A, use Max Muncy as their everyday second baseman, shift Cody Bellinger to first base and move AJ Pollock to center field, thus opening up a spot for Brantley in left field. However, it's far more likely they target a left-handed hitting outfielder who can simply fill a fourth outfielder role.
15. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers selected Brantley in the seventh round of the 2005 draft and sent him to Cleveland as the player to be named later in the 2008 CC Sabathia blockbuster. They need to upgrade their lineup, but with a projected starting outfield of Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain and Avisail Garcia, the corner infield spots are a more logical area of focus.
14. San Francisco Giants
Can the Giants sell Brantley on the idea of contending sooner than expected? They finished 29-31 last season and have one of the deepest farm systems in baseball, but they may still be a couple of years from becoming a serious threat. His bat and veteran voice would go a long way, so perhaps they'd be willing to pay a premium.
13. Miami Marlins
The Marlins have an underrated outfield with Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte and Garrett Cooper projected to start and the high-upside Lewis Brinson, Harold Ramirez and Magneuris Sierra also vying for spots. A Dickerson-Cooper platoon would make sense if they wanted to pursue Brantley, but it remains to be seen how they're approaching the offseason after a surprise postseason trip.
12. New York Yankees
If the Yankees are ready to close the book on the Brett Gardner era, Brantley could fit as his replacement. However, that would mean once again pushing Clint Frazier out of a starting role after he earned an opportunity for regular playing time with a 149 OPS+ in 160 plate appearances. Then again, if DJ LeMahieu winds up signing elsewhere, Brantley would provide a similar offensive profile.
11. Minnesota Twins
The decision to non-tender Eddie Rosario does not mean the Twins are in the market for a left fielder. Instead, it saved a nice chunk of money and cleared a path for top prospect Alex Kirilloff after he made his MLB debut in the postseason. That said, Brantley could still fit on the roster in the DH role if the front office decides against re-signing the 40-year-old Nelson Cruz.
10. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals will have some money to spend if they don't bring back Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, and they could certainly use some help at the plate. Dylan Carlson is on the cusp of stardom, while Tyler O'Neill, Harrison Bader and Dexter Fowler are also part of the outfield mix. The underwhelming performance of that trio and Fowler's impending free agency after the 2021 season should be enough for them to at least kick the tires.
9. Philadelphia Phillies
Can Andrew McCutchen still man center field? He last played there every day in 2017, and the metrics (-13 DRS, -6.6 UZR/150) were ugly, but if the 34-year-old can provide passable defense, it would give the Phillies an opportunity to upgrade their third outfield spot. They are built to win now, and Brantley could be a fallback plan if they whiff on re-signing J.T. Realmuto.
8. Oakland Athletics
With a $16 million salary, Brantley would have been the second-highest-paid Athletics player in 2020. They still need to figure out the shortstop position and the back end of the bullpen, but left field is also a question mark with Robbie Grossman likely headed elsewhere on the open market. It would take spending beyond their comfort level, but Brantley would be a huge addition—and the opportunity to sign him away from the American League West-rival Astros can't be overlooked.
7. Washington Nationals
Outside of shortstop Trea Turner and left fielder Juan Soto, the Washington Nationals offense was nothing short of dismal last season.
They trimmed some fat from the payroll by declining several club options, including a $10.5 million option on right fielder Adam Eaton, and that has created a hole in the outfield.
It wouldn't take a long-term commitment to sign Brantley, something that can't be said of other potential targets like J.T. Realmuto and George Springer, and that could be appealing after the front office gave big money and years to Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg the last two winters.
The corner infield spots are perhaps a more glaring need, with Andrew Stevenson making a case for more playing time in the outfield with a strong 2020, but Brantley would be a welcome addition.
6. Boston Red Sox
If Jackie Bradley Jr. signs elsewhere, the Boston Red Sox could explore the idea of shifting Andrew Benintendi to center field.
"He has plus speed and good instincts in all phases of the game, making him a viable base stealer and a quality center fielder," MLB.com wrote in 2016 while he was still rising the minor league ranks.
He has played 525 innings in center field over his five-year MLB career, and shifting there full time would allow the Red Sox to pursue one of the market's big corner outfield bats.
For what it's worth, Brantley is a .358/.384/.550 career hitter in 125 plate appearances at Fenway Park.
5. Atlanta Braves
The surprising decision to non-tender Adam Duvall after he posted a 113 OPS+ with 16 home runs and 33 RBI in 57 games has created some uncertainty in the Atlanta Braves outfield.
Ronald Acuna Jr. will fill one of the spots, while top prospect Cristian Pache showed enough in the postseason that he may be ready to step into an everyday role as well.
Defensive standout Ender Inciarte and fellow prospect Drew Waters are the leading in-house candidates for the third spot, but Inciarte fits best as a fourth outfielder at this point, and Waters has some swing-and-miss issues to iron out in the minors.
The most logical move would be to re-sign Marcell Ozuna after he made a great impression in his one and only season with the team, but Brantley is an excellent alternative for a team eyeing a World Series run.
4. Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays have seemingly been linked to everyone this offseason, and Shi Davidi of Sportsnet explored the idea of signing Brantley in November:
"While his left-handed bat and offensive profile are perfect for the batting order, how he fits defensively is less seamless. Since he's limited to left field and DH, that means pushing Lourdes Gurriel Jr. out of a spot in which he just started settling in. The Blue Jays don't mind creating redundancies—good luck keeping everyone happy, Charlie Montoyo!—but that also creates surplus to trade."
A report emerged a few weeks ago from Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer indicating that Cleveland would love to build a trade with the Blue Jays, sending Francisco Lindor to Toronto for a package built around Gurriel.
That would clear the way to sign Brantley, though it's all hypothetical at this point.
3. Chicago Cubs
In the wake of Theo Epstein stepping down as team president of the Chicago Cubs, I wrote a step-by-step plan for retooling the North Siders' roster.
One of the steps in that plan was to sign Brantley.
My logic: "Replacing an all-or-nothing slugger such as Kyle Schwarber with one of the best pure hitters in the game in Michael Brantley would transform the Cubs lineup."
It's still unclear exactly what the Cubs plan on doing this offseason, but the decision to non-tender Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr. has left Jason Heyward and Ian Happ as the only outfielders on the 40-man roster.
Even if they plan on retooling in the near future, signing Brantley to a two-year deal would improve the roster in the short term without adding a significant long-term commitment to the books.
2. Chicago White Sox
As it stands, FanGraphs projects Eloy Jimenez to move into the everyday DH role, leaving a starting outfield of Adam Engel, Luis Robert and recently signed Adam Eaton.
The one-year, $8 million deal that Eaton signed addressed the hole created by Nomar Mazara's non-tender, but it doesn't preclude the front office from making a play for Brantley.
While he's a standout defensive outfielder, Engel is a career .222/.276/.343 hitter with a 68 OPS+ in 1,140 plate appearances, and he fits best on a contender as a late-inning defensive replacement.
The White Sox have rapidly climbed the ranks of AL contenders, and there's no reason to believe they're done adding pieces this winter.
1. Houston Astros
The Houston Astros got their money's worth out of the two-year, $32 million contract that Brantley signed after a 10-year run in Cleveland.
He hit .309/.370/.497 for a 126 OPS+ in 194 games, and he added a .981 OPS with three home run and 11 RBI in 13 games during the 2020 postseason.
With George Springer likely to sign elsewhere and Josh Reddick also departing, the Astros outfield is a huge question mark beyond breakout star Kyle Tucker.
A healthy Yordan Alvarez will return to the DH role, but Brantley is still a capable left fielder, and the Astros simply can't afford to lose him as well this winter.
A matching two-year, $32 million deal for his age-34 and age-35 seasons could get it done.